Friday, August 28, 2009


Sometimes you have to get out of Paris. I just love living here, but it's almost like it's too much of a good thing. One easy way to leave is to take a day trip to one of the many sites within easy reach by train. And one easy motivation is to have guests visiting so you've got someone to go with. During the month of August a friend I've known since high school, her friend and their daughter have been staying in Paris. Yesterday we decided to visit Chartres, one of the most beautiful cathedrals in France. I'm very proud of how we met up. The regional train to Chartres leaves from the Gare Montparnasse which was "renovated" during the 70s (poor thing) and is now monstrously huge. There was no way we could meet there - it's simply too big. So, we met on the platform at the station Pasteur (link virus I told them) because both our metro lines crossed there. Then we simply went back one stop, together, to Monstrous Montparnasse. After that, we bought our train tickets on the spot and hopped on the next train. No reservations required.

The train was two-thirds empty, so we had almost the entire car to ourselves. After a brief trip that took a little more than one hour, we arrived in Chartres. As I remembered, just before you enter the town, you can see the majestic cathedral sitting on a hill, overlooking the entire area that surrounds it (and is agricultural to boot). It was an easy walk from the station up to the cathedral - (I can truly say "it's awesome"). Since it was time for lunch, we started looking for a good restaurant. To the left side of the tourist office is a street with several restaurants, but they were all too expensive. Finally, on the right hand side we saw a bar-brasserie-restaurant with decent prices and full of what looked like neighborhood people. Bingo! We had a fantastic lunch, and when we found our table across the restaurant and outside, we were literally sittting in the shadow of the cathedral. Ahhh. We then floated inside and were mesmerized by the stain glass windows and sculptures. On the way back to the train station, we found the river where in 858 the Vikings arrived to burn and sack the town. I sometimes imagine telling a French medieval peasant to just be patient and that eventually the Vikings would found Ikea and H&M, but somehow I don't think that would have comforted them much.

Then by a long and roundabout route we finally got back to the train station and took our easy train ride back to Montparnasse in Paris. photos:

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The End of the Line

I finally did it - I finally took the article that had been sitting in my files for about 8 years and transcribed the info from French into a nice American list of interesting things you can you discover at the end of several Metro lines (i.e. subway or underground) just outside Paris. I decided to begin with the Canal de l'Ourcq. Yes - there are 2 canals in Paris. There's a body of water that starts at the Bastille, then goes underground and resurfaces around République as the Canal St Martin. When it reaches La Villette, the renamed Canal de l'Ourcq branches off and then continues for over 100 kilometers until it eventually joins the Marne River.

(For more info, here is a link to Wikipedia:

At any rate, it seemed like a good idea. In fact, I had biked along the canal earlier in the week, and after a certain point past La Villette, the canal transformed into a peaceful waterway flowing along the countryside (yup, yup!). But getting there from the Metro turned out to be "pas evident" ("not obvious" as they say here). My French article said "end of the Line 5 Bobigny". But, there are 2 stops at the end of the Line 5 with the name Bobigny. Which one was it? First I assumed it was the stop before the very last stop and even led some friends there. Wrong. This part of the canal, easily accessible from the Metro, is not so charming when you walk along it. We could see the bridge way up the canal that marked the beginning of the "peaceful waterway" transformation, but frankly we were too wiped out to go there.

The next day I took the Metro out to the very very end of the Metro Line 5. When I exited, the first "mauvais signe" (bad sign) was that there was no wall map in the station to show the layout outside. This is the first time I've been in a Metro station did not have a fantastic wall map! When I asked at the ticket window, the woman behind the glass told me to go up the stairs to the left and then straight ahead. I did, and this is when I discovered "Bobigny land" a sort of strange suburb of ugly concrete housing mixed with planned greenery, and no canal in sight. But, the lady had said to "walk straight ahead" and I did, finally coming to a sign that said "Navettes Fluviales" (Water Transport). After that, more paths to nowhere and more concrete, interlaced with greenery. Finally, after walking about 20 minutes I found the canal where I took the picture above. But somehow, it didn't seem as charming on foot as it did on my bike (and yes - I had reached the flowing waterway part).

In the end I don't regret having gone there. After all, that's what exploring is all about - to see what's there. And sometimes it just ain't worth it - but at least you know from being there in person. That's part of the exploring deal as far as I'm concerned.

For more pictures of Bobigny, and of La Villette where a friend of mine danced the hula (true!), see my photos at:

Don't worry, I've still got 4 End of the Lines on my list. Plus a list of great places to visit on the public buses of Paris. I'll be back.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Back Yet Again Again and Unemployed

Yes - I'm back yet again, again. And now I can come back to my blog. I'm starting to explore Paris again. I'm still taking photos - at least I've done that all along.

At the end of March I left a very stressful job. It was kind of like a no fault divorce in that I agreed to leave peacefully and in return I received some extra compensation and the right to receive unemployment insurance. The full story will certainly be told in my autobiography. But right now I'm not naming names so the guilty can't punish me (even more than they did on the job). It's taken over 4 months to BEGIN to recover, which I'm doing now. It also took 4 months to finally get the unemployment insurance. At first they demanded the "right" forms from Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (otherwise known as Sciences Po) which is a fantastic university where I have the pleasure to teach. This had been only 1 course a week and not at all my main source of income. It was not the job I left, nor do I intend to do so. I teach there because I love both the work and the students (imagine - students who are self-disciplined - whoah!). Getting the "right" forms from Sciences Po took 3 weeks in itself because there's only one lady who takes care of it and she was busy working on something else. Then, when I finally did turn in the papers, Unemployment told me that Sciences Po was in the public sector and that their unemployment was separate and so I had to apply there first, get their benefits and then return to regular Unemployment. OK. But when I went back to Sciences Po, the response was "Public? What are they talking about - we're private!" The lady even wrote a note to that effect and I handed that in. The response? "Sciences Po is public, therefore... Luckily, I have a few French girlfriends. In a phone conversation with one of them, I mentioned my predicament and she responded that if indeed Sciences Po was private, there would be certain codes and numbers listed on each pay slip. There were! So I went back to the Unemployment office with a pay slip. Now, you have to understand that Unemployment has been merged with the National Employment Agency. When you arrive, you can speak to a young person of an average age of 19 who kind of knows things, but has no access to your file. If you need access to your file, you have to phone. If you phone from home, you'll never get through because the line is always busy. So it's much better to phone the mysterious people who work on files from one of several phones in the Unemployment Insurance lobby. But I really lucked out because my 19 year old took my pay slip, disappeared into the back office for at least 30 minutes (while everyone behind me waited, of course) and came back with the magic words, "Yes - Sciences Po is private." So, once again I had to drop my application in the letter box by the door. "You'll simply get the money in 1 or 2 weeks." Right. In 2 weeks I did get a letter saying I had been approved retroactively since mid April (by then is was the beginning of August), but the payment was 379 euros. Not exactly a sum to equal 3 and 1/2 months of unemployment insurance. So, back again to the office where the 19-year old couldn't help me. So I phoned and was told that since I'm 60 years old and could get retirement if I wanted, they had to have proof that I was not. It would have been nice if they could have notified me in writing! Then it was time to find other forms, this time from the National Retirement Service, proving that I had not taken my retirement (forms which Unemployment had received but had obviously lost). Success arrived in mid-August - the whole shebang! I'm not rich, but I'm ok for the moment. I can rest up a bit.

Given what I've been through, I decided to explore monuments to the dead in Paris. The monument in the photo at the top is in the Pere Lachaise Cemetary, Metro Pere Lachaise or Philippe Auguste. Take the main entrance on the Bd Menilmontant and walk straight back. There you'll find the monument in the form of an Egyptian temple. It's the work of Paul-Albert Bartholomé who lost his wife when he was very young and dedicated the monument to her spending 8 years on the site. Since everyone seems to ignore it, I wanted to bring it to your attention. The cemetery was full of 19 year olds (obviously on their day off from the Unemployment office) strolling around. So obviously this means it's a cool thing to do in Paris.